Voluntaryism as an Ethical Adoption
My goal with this writing is simple: I want to convince you that libertarian Voluntaryism, as a belief set for positive ethical adoption, is the best way to approach the background theory for consensual libertarian ethics. When I say “positive ethical adoption,” I mean that Voluntaryism is a belief set, a belief set that one encourages others to think about and live by. It is not a moral code claiming some higher authority. It is not an appeal to natural law, though it may rely on our senses and observations as humans to understand. It is not some axiom that logically must be proved for some universal set although, again, it may be observed that the principles can be acted upon with uniform understanding using our senses. It does not comment on the nature of free will, but it does assume that most people think they have a will.
I am asking you to consider this approach so that you can more effectively communicate the message of liberty without barriers. The ethical adoption approach is one that does not assume anything about the grand nature of the universe. It does not assume supernatural universal truths or preexisting moral codes. All it does is look at the nature of human interactions and seek out how to improve the consent of action while also making accommodations for the state of man in the universe. Of course, I am going to ask you to buy some assumptions. I have to. I have to ask you to first assume with me that you exist. Next, I need you to assume that you exist in a universe that experiences scarcity – that you are unique, taking up time and space that cannot be occupied by other humans. I then need you to admit your base needs for survival as a human, that you need organic food, water, air, and land to survive. If we can agree on these things, I think we have a great start to seeing why Voluntaryism as an ethics system for adoption is the wisest approach.
The Voluntaryist ethical system is one that seeks to maximize consent and minimize the initiation of violence as against humans. It does not seek to apply principles to other forms of life. The reason for this, in simplest terms, is that it is a basic assumption. We could argue back and forth about the merits of “why” humans should be valued or why their intellect makes them special. However, in the Voluntaryist system of ethics as adopted, we don’t because we just assume the set of actors: humans. Part of this reasoning, though not mandatory, is because humans generally must subdue and dominate the earth and its resources to survive. Humans do not necessarily need to dominate and subdue each other to meet the basic survival needs and, thus, carving out a category for applying an ethical code is more consistently applied as among humans. Consistency in that category works well to making sure the tenets of Voluntaryism are serving their chief purpose: to encourage peace among humans.
At the root of this is the individual, the human actor whose decisions on this planet are what we scrutinize when considering how the tenets of Voluntaryism are metered out. The individual is the source of where consent begins, and consent is the key to how we understand what interaction and transaction takes place under Voluntaryism. At the foundation of consent is the concept of self-ownership that, because humans exert control over their bodies through the brain, they have established what is commonly considered “property.”
Property is typically thought of as the right/ability to possess, use, not use, dispose of, transform, and/or alienate something. Concerning the body, the exertion of control via the brain establishes the first observable form of dominance. This “dominion” is how we recognize that control via sentience is an observable trait that can have real impacts in this world.
After the individual comes the environment. Looking again to our base assumptions, we know that humans cannot live without having water, organic food, land, and air. Scientific study of humans reveals that humans require the ingestion and transformation of food, air, and water in order to continue existence. The necessity for land with these needs in mind is axiomatic on three prongs. First, humans must occupy space in time by definition. A human who is occupying space on a planet does so to the exclusion of others. Even if standing in one spot, a human in space-time is occupying land (having possession) for a period. Second, the functions for survival require that food be available. Food for humans must come from organic sources, which means other living things occupying space in time. These living things also require land to grow, whether plant or animal. Therefore, the elements for human survival require that some organic things occupy land in addition to the human, necessitating occupation of space in time again. Lastly, a human must be able to survive the elements in order to continue life. Surviving the environment requires that a human be able to appropriate land for protection, especially while in the most vulnerable state of sleep. Because of this, humans must occupy space in time and, possibly through labor or impression upon the ground, change the nature of the land around him or her for stability.
If these general observations can be accepted, then building a framework for acquiring property under the Voluntaryist framework becomes easier to do.
What makes the human body controlled is possession of the whole. Deriving principle from observation of the body, we can draw a similar guideline: Acquisition of property that was not owned by another human is performed through the change and dominion by a human being. This change must be observable to put others on notice much like the changes and dominion of the body’s control is obvious to humans.
A typical example of this activity is homesteading. In past times, humans would fence off and till land to show that it was occupied and being used. The act of fencing and converting resources not only visibly changed the environment to the awareness of other humans, it also made clear that the boundaries were set based on use. This form of steading is to be distinguished from explorers who would plant flags in the name of a King or Queen without any form of transformation and boundary creation.
Homesteading is the baseline for acquisition of real property (land) in libertarian Voluntaryist thought. It may not be precise in terms of steps, but it does have historical evidence to show that such can be created and followed as a social norm. This model is not a moral code but, like everything else, a norm for ethical adoption.
As to other forms of conversion for possession, capture is another form of control. For example, if a person takes an apple from an unowned tree, that act of capture would be considered a conversion for property. This form of capture theory also has traditional backings from observable human behavior and, thus, is a strong ethical encouragement because it is observable generally.
When someone has acquired a property right in something, (and I say “right” loosely to mean an adopted ethical norm), that right can be defended against aggression.
This understanding is considered a baseline ethical norm for the non-aggression principle (N.A.P.). The non-aggression principle means that the ownership of something or one’s body is defendable against others to the extent another person threatens to take possession wrongfully. For example, if someone were to try to grab an apple out of one’s hand that was captured, that would be grounds for one to enact self-defense. However, self-defense should be narrowly tailored to the type of threat to avoid increasing violence. Where the harm is de minimus, the response should also be within a de minimus level. Escalation should be avoided. Where the home is concerned or the body is concerned, self-defense is seen at a greater maxim because those violations are ones which threaten the life of the individual. Some may try to argue that death is not merited for burglary, but it is not the act of burglary which is being defended against in the N.A.P. where the home is invaded – it is the act of threatening the life of the owner by entering a vulnerable space made for protection of life. The key here is to maximize consent and minimize the initiation of violence. Avoiding escalation to the best extent possible is the means to this end. This avoidance to escalation does not mean a retreat is necessary; it is only the positive action against the aggressor which is considered in escalation.
The most difficult concept to wade through is consent. Like most laws and moral codes, the principle of maximizing consent is easy to say, but harder to define when we take into account the ambiguities of the human mind. Generally, the maximization of consent is improved via market function. Steps to ensure that a person is consenting can be made to improve accuracy. Much of this is akin to contract and estate law requirements in governments today. Signatures, witnesses, approvals, and verifications are measures to help remove ambiguity on the issue of consent. Where capacity is an issue such as with age or mental disability, the maxim of reducing the initiation of violence should be balanced. For example, it would not comport with Voluntaryist norms to force an agreement made by someone suffering extreme dementia. The Voluntaryist norm would consider how the agreement was made and the condition of the mind at the time of agreement. This norm could be encouraged through contracting agencies that verify purchases and agreements for accounts, much like an auditor or accountant would for a credit card company. The market solution to be advocated for then is one that maximizes voluntary transactions as great as possible and looks for ways to help people improve consent accuracy.
As can be seen in example, Voluntaryism relies on consent to delineate between aggression and non-aggression. Generally, aggression is seen as a violation of the consent of a person. This consent extends to the body and physical property owned by a person. If a person touches another with consent, that is not considered aggression. Touching without consent is aggression and can be defended against with the Voluntaryist principles in mind.
The question then arises as to why someone would want to adopt these principles. The short answer is that adoption leads to more observable peace among humans. If maximizing consent is viewed as a norm, the observable aggression experienced diminishes greatly. Activities with victims are no longer tolerated under any guise such as through social contract or necessity for a supposed greater good. All should be treated equally under the principles of respecting the bodies and private property of one another, and any dispute arising should be considered from minimizing the initiation of violence, especially to escalation.
One might think that this is what the law is already, but it is not. Governments around the globe violate the bodies and captured property of people with impunity by using a justification called, “sovereign immunity.” Governments violate the very things they ban among their citizenry by changing the terminology. Theft is taxation. Kidnapping is conscription. Battery is complying with a lawful order. And murder is war.
This summary is not the full description of all possible voluntary solutions, but it provides a principled methodology by which to approach the nature of consent and property as among humans. There is much work to be done in stepping away from the thefts of government, and many theories about how such can be accomplished. I hope that you found this exposé of Voluntaryist principles via ethical adoption thought provoking. I look forward to hearing any comments you have or improvements that can be made in making the libertarian Voluntaryist principles clearer.